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Sweelinck - Pseaumes de David - Gramophone

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“Although it is for his keyboard music that Sweelinck is remembered today, it’s a curious fact (pointed out by Richard Marlow in his insert-note to this release) that it was his vocal music—and virtually all of it at that—that made it into print during his lifetime. One of his most notable achievements was to set all of the Psalms in French (the favoured language of the amateur circles for which this music was probably intended), an exercise that occupied his entire creative life and found its monument in four volumes of superb psalm-settings, published between 1604 and 1621. This new recording offers 15 pieces from the third book, published in 1614, and gives notice of the variety and ingenuity to be found in Sweelinck’s vocal output, encompassing as it does robust antiphony in Venetian style, elegantly fluid counterpoint, and imaginative manipulation of his original psalm melodies in a manner not a million miles removed from that of a Bach organ chorale. The most striking characteristic on first hearing, however, must be Sweelinck’s charming touches of word-painting, evident above all in the first and last pieces on the disc: Psalm 150, with its depiction of the laudatory tabour (”bou-bou-bou-bou-bour”!); and Psalm 148, whose sinister evocation of the whales of the deep is followed immediately by a vivid representation of fire, hail, snow and ice.

The mixed voices of the Trinity College Choir are on good form here. Though their sound is not quite as sharply focused—and hence not as contrapuntally lucid—as that of some other ensembles around at the moment, they produce a nicely blended sound that is never less than easy on the ear. But it is Richard Marlow’s astute and imaginative direction that really makes this a recording worth hearing; his sensitivity and responsiveness to the constant changes of choral texture are tireless, while a willowy, declamatory springiness to the vocal delivery and an ability to give the music a firm rhythmic impetus help him to delineate both the form and sense of each piece. This disc multiplies the number of Sweelinck’s vocal works currently in the catalogue by 16—and it also provides 77 minutes of the most intelligent and lively choral music-making.”

Lindsay Kemp

Sweelinck - Pseaumes de David
Conifer Classics CDCF205